Interviewing » Phrasing Questions and Other Techniques »

Avoid "Multiple-choice" and Double-barreled Questions

Ask the respondent only one question at a time. It sounds obvious, but asking a single, unambiguous question is a difficult skill to acquire. A common tendency is to give a menu of options: "Why did you come to Canada? Was it for the climate or for work or to reunite with a family member?"

By phrasing questions in multiple-choice format, the interviewer obliges the respondent to select an answer from the provided choices. In effect, it forecloses possibilities that the respondent may choose different categories, or follow a different angle of response. Most importantly, the respondent is less likely to provide detailed description because she or he may think the interviewer is only interested in category-type information.

Example: A "Multiple Choice" Question

Interviewer: Do you think of yourself as a Canadian or a Sri Lankan, a Tamil or something else?

Vijaya: I consider myself as a Sri Lankan Canadian, not as a fully Canadianized person.

Interviewer: What kind of identities do your sons have?

Vijaya: My younger son who is 14 is more British I think. Even my second son who is 21, he loves England. I don't think any of them will ever go to Sri Lanka. My elder guy, he loves the States. He still has his Sri Lankan ways a little bit, but he doesn't have a single Sri Lankan friend where he lives.

Tamil Interview #9


Both questions to Vijaya are about identity. The first is a "multiple-choice" type question; she gives a categorical response. The second is open-ended; her response is rich and detailed.

Exercise: Keep the Questions Open

Rephrase the first question of the excerpt above to turn it into an open-ended question. Identify a "multiple choice" question in the interviews or write your own. Then re-write it as an open-ended question.

Example: A Double-barrelled Question

Interviewer: At the time of marriage would you expect your child (male vs. female) to be able to talk to you about private things, and to be experienced or knowledgeable about sex?

Diane: He does. He's very open. Once his friend wanted to set him up with a girl and I said I was against it because, "you're not an Indian, where people set their children up." I want him to choose his own mate. Like Marcus Garvey says, you have to be a leader. You choose your own person and it's fine with me.

Caribbean Interview #2


Here several questions are rolled into one making this a double- or triple-barreled question (at least). When the respondent says, "He does. He's very open," we cannot be sure to which part of the question this answer pertains.

The double-barreled question should be replaced by a series of open-ended questions, which should be asked one at a time:

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